I wish internet providers sold backup service


Comcast has been having a lot of outages this month. Since, like many, internet is vital to work and many things in the home, I would like to be able to have two internet providers, and fail over to the 2nd one when the first is out. I don't want to just have to pay double to have this -- I want to pay the backup provider much less because I am almost never using them. I want to pay them if I use them a lot, and better still I want my 1st provider to pay them if the 1st provider goes out.

Of course, you there are many tools that will let you set up fail-over on your home gateway. There are even tools to bond two connections into one, or possibly to split the load over the two connections on an application by application basis. (To to this well you need a central routing node so that you look like one IP to the outside world.) That's good if you want to pay double, but I don't really need this. The gigabit download I get is more than most sites can send to me at, though doubling the upstream would be nice.

Providers could offer you a backup service, with the same install cost, but low monthly fees as long as you don't use it. You're costing them very little to be connected but send no traffic or minimal traffic. That's extra true for wireless providers who have no costs if you aren't sending.

There are barriers to doing this, and one big one is a sort of prisoner's dilemma. If carrier A offers backup service but carrier B does not, then all the people who want backup will get main service from carrier B. If both "defect" and don't offer it, nobody can get low priced backup service. Only if both offer it and both are similar in quality is it a win for everybody. Customers win with more reliable service. Companies win because those customers pay extra money which goes to the providers. But perversely, the one who does it worst wins, because they become the logical choice for main service!

One way it could work would be a reseller, who contracts with two providers and becomes your main provider. They negotiate good rates with both providers based on usage, and take one as your main provider and the other as the backup. But not everybody is welling to allow reselling. Each provider could also resell the other (white lable) and in particular, configure that local gateway to make the fallback invisible. That effectively implements my last wish, that this actually costs me little because my main provider, in going down, bears some of the cost of me getting a backup -- as they very much should.

You can do this with mobile broadband, which can be bought by the gigabyte. In fact, that is my strategy -- if my main internet goes down, I can put my phone in tether mode and bring a connection back up. It's not gigabit but it does the job. I don't make this automatic because it's expensive -- I will do about 13 gb/day on my main connection, which could easily blow my bandwidth limits there, or be hugely expensive at $10/gb over the cap. Some providers are slightly better priced.

I don't need the backup connection to be quite as good as the main one, that's another way to save money, particularly in that you don't need as expensive an install in many cases.

I have mused that Starlink could make sense here, though their terminal is expensive. They incur no cost if the terminal is off, and if they let me buy by the gigabyte when my main service is down, it could make sense. In addition, they work everywhere. I can get only one fiber provider at my house today, so double fiber is not in the cards.

There is a catch. If one main provider has an outage, and large numbers of their customers suddenly all connect to Starlink or any other backup provider, it might overload them. If they have to provision for that, you will have to pay more. Starlink isn't really meant for the city, it will overload if large numbers of people close together all want 100mb from it. That can be solved by limiting the number of backup customers per square mile. Only the more dedicated will pay extra for 100% uptime.

Lower speed might help. Comcast gigabit is $100 but you can get 100mbit for $60 or even less with a 2 year contract, which may be OK as a backup service. 100mbit backup will do the job in most cases as long as the outage is not very long. So it's some saving, but it could be more. 100mbit that I barely use should be even cheaper.

Add new comment